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Trip report -- Asian (Ryowa Ramen, Sushi Sho, Sahn Maru, Harbor Village)

Prabhakar Ragde | Aug 27, 200510:01 PM

Ryowa Ramen -- I normally have difficulty eating here in the summer,
but it was an exceptionally cold and overcast weekday lunch. Since
we had both "lunch special" and straight ramen orders at our table, I
can confirm that the bowls that come with fried rice and gyoza are
smaller (probably good, as otherwise it would be too much food). Also
that the kimchee (which really is amazingly good) is no longer on the
table; there's no mention of it anywhere, and you have to know to ask,
at which point they bring out a little dish of it immediately. The
menu has a bit more in the way of English explanations of the
differences between the various types of ramen. But the service is as
chilly and indifferent as ever. I was the only person in the place
with no Japanese blood.

Sushi Sho -- We eventually had good sushi here, but it took some
work. We arrived at five to six to find it closed, with no sign as to
why. I was tempted by Bendean's $13 prix-fixe, which included Niman
Ranch chile verde, but I couldn't convince anyone else to argue with
the server about the timing; they wanted sushi. With reluctance, I
pulled out my cellphone and called, probably incurring horrendous
roaming charges. They said they would open in about ten minutes. So we
walked up and down Solano, and eventually (about six-twenty), they

There's one sushi chef, and his wife, who waits tables, though the
tables all had "closed" signs on them, and they apparently don't
actually seat people at them. She's sort of dour and fussy, and oddly
enough for a sushi bar, we had to tell her what we wanted and then she
went around the back and told him. When I said I wanted to eat the
best of what he had, she was very discouraging. He doesn't know what
you like. I like what is good. He needs some indication of what you
like. I like everything. What about the kids? I asked the kids. No uni
for them, I said. What about wasabi? They're okay with it, I said. But
when the order went around the back, he started lecturing us on how
kids can't eat wasabi. Mine can, I said. No, no, it chokes them. He
made them five nigiri -- egg, shrimp, tuna, salmon, ikura -- and
inari, with a tiny dab of wasabi on the tuna for them to "try". "He
gave us KID sushi!" they complained afterwards.

Fortunately, we did better: fluke; scallop that was unusually buttery;
house-marinated mackerel that was excellent, not at all sweet and just
slightly sour; ama ebi, bright and sweet; tuna both raw and seared;
unagi heated on a little grill. The kids took bites of ours, and when
we ordered a second round, we didn't specify which they had
requested. I watched him make battera for another customer. He cut
thin slices of salmon away from the skin and put them into the mold,
then mixed tobiko into the rice by hand and put it in, then put the
top down and pushed, his feet leaving the floor. He turned the mold
upside down and took it apart, then put a thin rectangular sheet of
kombu, from the centre after it had been scraped for dashi, on top,
and cut it into six slices. We didn't have that, but we did have uni,
which was quite good. At this point he seemed to notice that my
father-in-law was Japanese, and had a vigorous conversation with him,
much of which I could follow, though my Japanese is pretty much
gleaned from subtitled films. It did distract my father-in-law enough
that I could actually pay for a meal for once.

So, you will eat well at Sushi Sho, but you'll have to work at it.

Sahn Maru -- This was a bit of a disappointment. We started with a
"seafood pancake", which was large and came in a sizzling platter to
be cut at the table, but in comparison to others we've had, it was a
bit leaden. The same was true of the panchan, which were numerous
(something like ten) but not very vibrant. The black goat stew
mentioned by every review was good, but not a revelation; the best
thing about it was the complex dipping sauce, there wasn't much goat,
and there wasn't any good way to get at the broth. Spicy kimchee stew with
noodles and rice cakes was quite a disappointment; the noodles were
standard package ramen (we saw them putting it in), and there were large
chunks of hot dog (I kid you not) in it. The sleeper, and the only
dish that exceeded our expectation, was braised pork in mild chili
sauce with vegetables. The pork fell off the large bones it was
attached to, the vegetables included sweet potatoes and red dates, and
the rice cakes (which are not the crispy disks you get in plastic bags
at your average supermarket, but soft, chewy cylinders) worked
here. Everyone was very friendly, the dining room is large, bright,
and clean, but I've had better Korean food in the small Canadian town
where I live. Cheaper, too.

Harbor Village -- There's no point in my critiquing our dim-sum
brunch, except to say that it was okay, not quite as good as the one we
had at Saigon Seafood Harbor a year ago. But this was more of a
tribute on our part. My father-in-law used to work in Embarcadero 4,
and we had many a good lunch at Harbor Village in its time. Eventually
we moved on, and then moved from the places we moved to, and now we
don't really have anywhere to go that's close to the places we usually
find ourselves. Applications are solicited.


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